As part of our series exploring tourism definitions, we explore the ways ecotourism is interpreted around the world.
While the details vary, most definitions of ecotourism boil down to a special form of tourism that meets three criteria:
1) it provides for environmental conservation
2) it includes meaningful community participation
3) it is profitable and can be self-sustaining
Ecotourism is overreaching at its finest and calls upon inter-sectoral alliances and respect among a mix of players, aka stakeholders.
Imagine these goals as three overlapping circles. If a project or service met all three criteria, it would hit the bull’s eye. To use another sports term, it’s akin to scoring a hat trick.
This three circle model illuminates not only what is ecotourism, but what can become ecotourism. If tourism aspires toward ecotourism, this model allows players to figure out how to collaborate and share individual and collective strengths.
This model is similar to the idea behind ‘triple bottom line’ but frankly, we think the term makes ecotourism a tool of the accountants, rather than that of entrepreneurs.
Confusion and Decline
The lack of a precise, commonly agreed definition of ‘ecotourism’ has been a cause of misunderstanding, argument and debate. Multiple uses confuse ecotourism with adventure and nature tourism, not to mention sustainable tourism).
During the 2002 International Year of Ecotourism the traveling public were largely ignored as valued players during official policy making events. For example, the Quebec Ecotourism Declaration does NOT include travelers as stakeholders. A serious omission, n’est-ce pas?
The 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, barely mentioned or reflected on ecotourism as a subset.
The result of this confusion: During this time …. we’ve been tracking a decline… Fewer people are searching for ecotourism, at least by this specific name:
Private operations have also come up with their own definitions. Ecuador’s Black Sheep Inn recommends that travelers look at five criteria including conservation, low impact, sustainability, meaningful community involvement and environmental education.